Uncut Gems

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Thriller;
Box Office $50 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use.
Stars Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch.

A disturbing and offbeat thriller from the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems offers what is undoubtedly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career.

Sandler plays Howard, a New York jeweler and gambling addict who is deeply indebted to loan sharks. He manages to get his hands on a rare Ethiopian black opal expecting to auction it off to raise the money to pay his debts. Yet his fortunes continue to spiral out of control as he desperately tries to stay one step ahead of his past catching up with him.

Sandler’s reputation for comedy creates a certain expectation among viewers that lends to the film’s sense of unease, as it undercuts seeming moments of levity with an undercurrent of tension that always threatens to boil over. Sandler’s presence makes it easy to root for Howard despite his constant penchant for screwing up his own life. It could almost be considered a comedy of errors if it weren’t so gritty.

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Set in 2012, the film ties Howard’s predicaments to the real-life NBA playoff series between Boston and Philadelphia, with former Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett playing himself as a client of Howard. Garnett becomes obsessed with the opal, believing it gives him good luck as the series progresses, which puts Howard in a bind as he needs to hand it over to the auction house while outrunning the enforcers of his bookies, who won’t let him make any additional bets to cover his losses.

One of the highlights of the film is a starmaking turn by newcomer Julia Fox as Howard’s employee and mistress, the kind of arm candy every middle-aged sad sack wants to envision on their arm.

The Blu-ray includes the featurette “Money on the Street,” a half-hour making-of video that details the extensive production history of the film, which is based on real elements from the Safdie’s own childhood remembrances of their father’s stories about the diamond district. The featurette offers some good insights from the filmmakers and cast about its themes of aspirations outpacing ability.

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Knives Out

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/25/20;
Lionsgate;
Mystery Comedy;
Box Office $163.71 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Noah Segan, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz.

Director Rian Johnson’s penchant for subverting expectations has manifested itself in the delightful Knives Out, a modernized take on the classic murder mystery format.

The set-up is familiar. In a quirky mansion in the countryside of New England, the maid discovers the body of her wealthy employer — crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — dead from seemingly cutting his own throat.

As Harlan’s family comes out of the woodwork for the funeral and reading of the will, the police initially rule it a suicide. Yet the case remains open at the behest of private sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Johnson’s southern-flavored homage to the likes of Columbo and Hercule Peroit. Hired by an anonymous party to ensure all aspects of Harlan’s death are explored, Blanc quickly uncovers dissension within the family, several members of which having had loud arguments with Harlan in the day leading up to his death.

The expertly-crafted, Oscar-nominated screenplay toys with the conventions of the genre, revealing what actually happened within the first 30 minutes or so, then uses the next hour-and-a-half to clue the audience in the fuller context of the events viewers have already seen, thus providing the true focus of the mystery.

Blanc recruits Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), to aid in his investigation, though she is more aware of what happened than she lets on. A unique physical tic causes her to puke whenever she lies, providing one of the film’s central running gags but also lending a fair amount of tension to the proceedings as Marta has a fair number of secrets she’d rather not help expose either. The pairing of Craig and de Armas must have been agreeable enough for them, as she’s slated to appear in his next James Bond movie. And for Craig, tapped to reprise Blanc investigating new cases in future sequels, the role offers a nice new franchise once he wraps up his tenure as the super spy.

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This is the kind of film that not only invites multiple viewings, but practically demands them. Luckily, the Blu-ray offers a couple of nice options for the rewatch in the form of audio commentaries that dissect the story structure and reveal many of the details layered into the film’s intricate construction. Both are well worth a listen. One is a solo commentary by Johnson, originally released online while the film was still in theaters so fans could listen to it through headphones when they returned to their local cinema to partake in a fresh viewing. The second commentary, recorded for the home video release, features Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin, and actor Noah Segan, who plays one of the cops investigating the murder.

Visually, Knives Out is gorgeous, shot digitally yet rendered to evoke the feeling of classic film, bringing forth textures and color that immerse the viewer in the story’s uneasy atmosphere while making one wish they too could be crawling around that quirky old mansion searching for clues.

The Blu-ray includes the outstanding “Making a Murder,” an eight-part, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary that provides in-depth details on all aspects of the production, from writing it, to casting it, to making the costumes and sets, and recording the music. It runs a shade under two hours in total.

The “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette supplements this a bit, with a six-minute video on how Johnson created the story to be, as he describes it, a Hitchcock thriller within a whodunit. There’s also a 42-minute Q&A from a SAG screening in November that gives the massive cast a chance to sing their own praises while recounting their joy in making the movie.

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The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes comprising about five total minutes, with optional commentary by Johnson. These add some interesting subtext to some of the film’s subplots, but it’s easy to understand the decision to omit them from the final cut.

Finally, the disc offers a trove of marketing materials, including trailers and viral ads starring several of the characters in the film.

All-in-all, it’s an impressive package that harkens back to the glory days of DVDs that really gave fans a lot of bang for their buck.

‘Knives Out’ Coming Home on Digital Feb. 7, Disc — Including 4K — Feb. 25

The murder mystery Knives Out, which earned writer-director Rian Johnson an Oscar nom for Best Original screenplay, is heading home.

Lionsgate will release the whodunnit on digital Feb. 7 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and on demand Feb. 25.

The film, which has earned $278 million at the global box office, also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Ana de Armas) and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Daniel Craig). Written, produced, and directed by Johnson (Star Wars: The Last JediLooper), Knives Out also has received awards from AFI, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics, Philadelphia Film Festival, The Hollywood Critics Association and Rotten Tomatoes’ Golden Tomatoes Awards.

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In addition to Craig and de Armas, the film’s ensemble cast includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer. It follows the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer). There’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) knows for sure — everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth.

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Special features include an audio commentary and in-theater commentary by filmmaker Rian Johnson, two deleted scenes, the eight-part “Making a Murder” documentary, the “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette, and a Q&A with the director and cast.